We have a special session of the Legislature coming up that holds huge stakes for New Mexico voters: decennial redistricting. With the new census, New Mexico, like the rest of the nation, must review its political boundaries for population changes and redraw its maps accordingly. Of course, New Mexico being New Mexico, it’s usually fair game for gerrymandering, or packing districts to favor incumbents and the party in power.

You may be wondering why I haven’t been filling column space with all things redistricting while the Citizens Redistricting Committee (CRC) was holding public meetings around the state and developing updated maps for Congress, the Legislature and the Public Education Commission this fall. My editor has this funny bias against conflict of interest, you see, and my company had been retained to do the public outreach for the CRC. Now that the CRC’s work is complete, I am allowed to again apply fingers to keyboard on my favorite topic.

Last week, the CRC submitted proposed its proposed maps to the Legislature for consideration. The process to get to those maps was impressive. The Committee held 18 public meetings around the state, all of which were accessible via Zoom through the state and via Facebook Live via NM PBS to obtain public input and testimony for the maps. The Committee created an online portal with virtual training so the members of the public could draw and submit their own maps. The Committee retained independent experts to build the maps and then review the maps for partisan fairness.

The public meetings were fascinating to watch. Over 2,000 New Mexicans participated, and more than 300 submitted testimony or maps. I caught some continuing themes: small towns wanted to be kept together under a single legislator; Native American communities sought additional majority districts; and the Center for Civic Policy, an Albuquerque community organization, did what community organizers do—they organized.

If you visit nmredistricting.org, you will see that at least two of the state House maps put divided communities—notably Edgewood, Silver City and Chaparral—back together under a single representative. Also, Native American majority districts increase. And, the controversial “People’s Map” for Congressional districts submitted by the Center for Civic Policy was accepted by the CRC and submitted to the Legislature for consideration.

The “People’s Map” is controversial because it radically changes the makeup of the strongly Republican 2nd Congressional District by dividing the key conservative community of Roswell and placing part of it in the same district as Albuquerque and placing Clovis and Portales in the same district as Santa Fe. It creates a majority Hispanic district in the southern part of the state. The Center for Civic Policy garnered criticism by reportedly paying individuals to attend public meetings and speak in support of their maps. This is not illegal, however.

Because of the heavy documented public support, and the fact the “People’s Map” did pass the independent test of partisan fairness, that is, it did not overtly favor one party over another—the CRC voted 5-2 to forward it to the Legislature. It would significantly reduce the Republican advantage in the district, which increases the possibility the Democratic supermajority in the Legislature will give it their attention.

Let’s talk about the Legislature’s options for a moment. While the law establishing the CRC was passed in the final hours of the 2021 session, the Democratic leadership made sure they took the teeth out of the final bill. First, the CRC was only given 120 days to do its work, and a minuscule budget. Second, the Legislature does not have to use any of the maps submitted, or it can change any of them to its liking.

So, the Democratic majority made it as difficult as possible for the CRC to do its job and doesn’t even have to consider its work. This is why it is so important that all of us as voters watch the special session closely. We must demand transparency. We must see the process the Legislature uses to choose the final boundaries for its own districts.

Is it possible the Legislature will throw out the CRC maps and brazenly gerrymander? Sure. But strong public and media interest could cause such a move to backfire. More to the point, if grossly skewed partisan maps are put forward by the Legislature, there will be lawsuits. And when those cases go forward for adjudication, it’s likely the presiding judge will look for an equitable non-partisan solution. Like one of the CRC maps.

So I am a little hopeful that public pressure and legal reality will make this decade’s redistricting the process it was meant to be: an equitable process to create districts that fulfill the promise of “one person, one vote.”

Merritt Hamilton Allen is a PR executive and former Navy officer. She appears regularly as a panelist on NM PBS and is a frequent guest on News Radio KKOB. She lives amicably with her Democratic husband and Republican mother north of I-40 where they run two head of dog, and two of cat. She can be reached at news.ind.merritt@gmail.com.